The Other (Unglamorous) Side of Traveling

A traveler without observation is a bird without wings.

How many times have you heard from your friends and family that “you are so lucky to travel”, “you are having a perfect life”, “your life is wonderful, every day is stress-free” and “you don’t need to worry about anything”?

Shoes in a boat, China, Fenghuang
Exploring Fenghuang, Hunan province, China by boat

They all wish they could swap with you, but not many of them realize how stressful, exhausting, dangerous and uncomfortable traveling might be. There is a lot of risk we, whether full-time or part-time travelers, take every single day when backpacking through South-America, Asia, Africa or even Europe.

Of course nobody can see it when when looking through our photos of beaches, pictures of delicious food and us smiling with locals and beautiful landscape in the background, posted on social media channels.

St.Paul in Macau 2
Exploring Macau on a very hot day

In today’s post I would like to share our “bad” travel experiences to prove not everything is so perfect as it looks like when you travel.

1. Sickness

Yes, traveling is so much fun. You might have a blast every single day meeting different people and experiencing new things. Everything might go smoothly and you may enjoy every single second of it until you… get sick. Nobody likes to be sick, right? But it feels even worse when you are alone in a foreign country, you don’t speak the local language, you are not insured and you are seriously sick (and I’m not talking about having a cold or a running nose here).

The Get Well card sent by fellow travel bloggers of Travel World Passport

So far, it happened to us 4 times – twice to me, twice to Cez. My first time sick was back in 2011 when I firstly came to China. While sleeping in my bed at night, I was bitten by a toxic spider and my whole neck and face got infected by the poison. I was transferred to the hospital within a few hours after the bite, got some painful injections and I was prescribed some medicines I had to use for the next 2 months until I fully recovered. My whole body was swollen, I had a rash all over my body and I sometimes could not breath properly. Luckily, I recovered within 2 months and the wounds disappeared after 4 months.

See also  What to Prepare for Horse Riding Trip in Mongolia

The second time I got seriously sick was again in China (guess it’s been unlucky place to me), in around April 2012 when I passed out during one of my jogging sessions at school I was working in at that time. I was given a drip in one of local hospitals that made my body shiver and when I woke up after few minutes (with bruises all over my body after reanimation) I was told I was clinically dead for 42 seconds (this is exactly what you want to hear right after you regain consciousness, right?).

a white boy is sleeping in a bed, hospital
Cez in Dongguan hospital after his knee accident

Cez suffered from dengue fever (infectious tropical disease caused by the dengue virus and its symptoms include fever, headache, muscle and joint pain) while in Cambodia and he seriously injured his knee during one of his classes in China.

Chinese girls are visiting Cez
Kindergarten teachers have paid Cez a visit during his recovery

How do you feel when you get stuck abroad seriously injured or sick? Although we are both tough people, these 4 times made us realize how fragile and unpredictable our lives were. We missed our friends and families, but we luckily had each other’s support. Let’s  imagine someone traveling solo getting a food poison, malaria or even something worse. It is not much fun then, huh?

2. Missing home

When you live in China, a country not necessary familiar with Christmas, Easter and other common (for us) holidays you celebrate annually in your home country, there are moments when you miss home terribly. You wish you could just teleport yourself back home in the blink of an eye and share the happiness with the loved ones. Instead, you are working your ass off to be able to support your travels and carry on making your dreams come true (which is amazing, I’m not complaining here).

Agness is celebrating Christmas with her family
First Christmas back home after 2 years of voyages across Asia

There are moments during your travels that you miss your family and friends and you feel kinda guilty for missing out another wedding of your cuisine, your mom’s birthday or the birth of your niece. Calling home helps a bit to leverage this feeling, but it’s just not the same as being there in person.

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3. Tiredness

Think of all of these hours spent on the train, at the airport and on local buses. Wasn’t it exhausting? Gosh, traveling is tiring! You can feel absolutely knackered after 10 hour overnight bus ride or your 8 hour flight back home.

Sleeping at bus stop in Laoag the Philippines
Sleeping at a bus stop in Laoag, the Philippines

Think of how many times you got stuck at the airport as your flight was delayed or how many times you had to wait for the next bus to come as the last one just left. There are times when you don’t take a shower for a day (or even longer), you sleep on the floor or you don’t sleep at all feeling frightened you might get robbed while asleep!

Beijing- Cez1
That’s how we travel in China when all regular tickets are sold out

4. Risking your life

When you travel and you are not very familiar with local areas, customs, prices, etc., you might often become a target of local scams.  It is ok if you get ripped off from time to time when buying some food and souvenirs, but sometimes things might get more complicated. Think of all solo female travelers who hitchhike at night or have to take an overnight local bus but they have no clue where they are going. There are moments when we need to trust some random people we meet in the middle of night and hope they can help us out find the right direction without robbing us or worse!

Visiting a local family in China

Me and Cez are extremely open people who enjoy interacting with locals a lot. We rarely turn down dinner or lunch invitations and often get invited by locals to their homes. What if these people were psychos or murderers? We could get easily killed and nobody would even know where our bodies were buried (I guess I’ve watched too many horror movies). The point is that we take a risk every single day when being on the road, doing some extreme sports we never had a chance to try back home or trusting random people.

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5. Dirt and stench

Everyone’s travel style is different. There are some travelers who like to travel in a very posh and expensive way, stay in glamorous hotels and drink a glass of champagne before their bedtime. There is nothing wrong with that, but for me and Cez (as you know we call ourselves tramps not without a reason) every single dollar counts when it comes to spendings and controlling our travel budget. We travel under $25 a day and we mean it. Due to our budget limit, we often need to stay away from high quality hotels and stick to cheap motels or hostels.

room in vietnam
Our room in Vietnam

We often stayed in very gross, filthy and grubby rooms with no windows or proper toilet. There were days when we had no access to the hot water or internet so taking a shower or contacting our families wasn’t an option.

The toilet in one of Sri Lankan trains
The toilet in one of Sri Lankan trains

When you travel cheaply, you become a friend with cockroaches, ants and bed bugs. As first you are shocked and disgusted to see them crawling on the floor of your room, but after sometime you get used to your new roommates, especially in Vietnam, Cambodia and some other south-east Asian countries where the level of hygiene is not and never been a top priority.

IMG 9641
Our roommates in one of Vietnamese rooms

To sum up, although traveling is the best thing that ever happened to us, not everything is as perfect as it looks or seems to be. There are some hard moments we all experience during our epic voyages such as feeling lonely, sick, tired or disgusted. At the end of the day though, we all remember the good things and make fun of the bad which makes each journey unforgettable.

Have you ever experienced loneliness or sickness on the road or have any bad travel memories you would like to share?


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Picture of Agness Walewinder
Agness Walewinder
Travel freak, vagabond, photography passionate, blogger, life enthusiast, backpacker, adventure hunter and endless energy couchsurfer living by the rule "Pack lite, travel far and live long!"
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96 thoughts on “The Other (Unglamorous) Side of Traveling”

  1. Avatar of Illia

    This article is soooo true! People have illusions about such way of life, that it’s always great and fluffy, whereas sometime you might get so sick, or sleep in such a bad place, that many who would’ve experienced that would never want to go on a trip again. Great topic, thanks!

  2. Avatar of Franca

    We couldn’t agree more with you guys. People often think that travelling is super easy with no stress or worries, clearly they haven’t experienced it and they don’t know what they are really talking about. Traveling the way we do it’s not like going on holiday for a week or two a year, it’s a lifestyle and it has its own issues and dark sides. Fortunately the best part of travelling always wins and makes everything else worth the pain :)

  3. Avatar of Grace Buchele Mineta
    Grace Buchele Mineta

    Thank you for writing this! I completely agree.

    A lot of people think I have it easy travelling so much – but really it’s hard (totally worth it, but hard). Sickness, being tired, insecurities… they’re scary. It’s frustrating.

    I love travelling, but every once and a while, I just have to take a break and go home. Sit in my apartment for a couple of weeks until I recover.

  4. Avatar of Casey @ A Cruising Couple

    Hahaha I love all the photos of you sleeping! It’s so true- travel is definitely not always glamorous, especially when it is your lifestyle. I think getting sick on the road is the worst. It always happens at some point or another, and every time all I want are my comforts from the U.S. :)

  5. Avatar of santafetraveler

    Like the rest of life, when you travel, stuff happens. For people like me who take trips- we hope that we stay healthy while away. When travel is your lifestyle, it’s inevitable that it’s not all a bed of roses- or in your case, sometimes, roaches. I love your intrepid and cheap travel style.

  6. Avatar of Katie @ From Shores to Skylines
    Katie @ From Shores to Skylines

    Awesome post – and much of it true! It’s certainly not all glamour… but it’s so worth it! Getting sick and scams are the ones I’ve encountered most often, but it’s a small price to pay for all of the experiences!!

  7. Avatar of Anu (Country Hopping Couple)

    Can’t agree more with the points Agness. We miss home always, and it just gets worse when we fall ill; And the thought of missing the celebrations and festivals back in our country just makes me homesick. True, travelling has this other side which most of them do not realise unless they are travellers themselves!

  8. Avatar of realgunners

    I think the being sick part is the worst especially if you travel alone. Heck even if you are not traveling and just moved away from home for work (like me),falling sick is the worst feeling. At home you know mom and dad has got your back and taking care of you, outside you are just so alone.
    I had the misfortune of having a friend who passed away, away from home. He moved to Kuala Lumpur for work,and shared a rental apartment with some strangers. He fainted in his room and non of his housemates noticed until a few days later because he usually just stick to himself and doesn’t interact well with others. By that time it was already too late. I felt really bad for many weeks after learning this news.
    I suppose when we are away from home, always make it a habit to keep in touch with family frequently, and more importantly make new friends so that there will be people who remembers you at all times.

  9. Avatar of Ivan Campuzano

    Great post! Love the photos…traveling can be a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it! Every experience whether we label it good or bad is an opportunity to learn and grow.

  10. Avatar of Jazza - NOMADasaurus

    Great post, Agness! While the majority of the time travelling is all great experiences and fantastic interactions we do put ourselves through situations that most people who do not travel would never see the appeal in. We’ve been woken up at gunpoint on a bus in Mexico, robbed by the police in Guatemala, survived a head-on bus crash in Myanmar and been stranded in remote villages and towns without any way of communicating. Won’t even start on the dodgy accommodations and food!

    But for all the frightening and disillusioning moments we have had, there are hundreds more incredible experiences to shift the balance to the positive. You have to put yourself out there to reap the rewards. I’ll happily have a few more disheartening scenarios in my future if it means we get to continue living a life of travel!

  11. Avatar of Andrew

    much of backpacking is Unglamorous! got to love train toilets in Asia right? Great post can really relate to most things you wrote. Boy have I stayed in some dives!

  12. Avatar of Renuka

    Such posts are so much fun to read! Yeah, I fell sick too on my last trip, and yes, dirt is a big turn off for me. Wherever I go I make it a point to get clean bed and toilet. And if I’m traveling by a train, I avoid using toilets at all.

  13. Avatar of Vanessa @ The Travelling Colognian

    This post is sooo true, Agness; Cez’ and your bad experiences are a lot worse than mine. The worst thing which happened to me on my travels was being robbed out in the French quarter in Hanoi, right in front of the Opera House in broad daylight in October 2011. I also probably risked my life several times when hitchhiking with absolute strangers, often males, by day and at nighttime who sometimes even didn’t speak English nor any of the other of the languages I can speak. My friends apparently think that my travels are only positively exciting and great fun the whole time. They are not adventurous, but prefer a more luxurious travel style and have no clue that these gross and disgusting accommodations, many of us here probably know, even exist.

    1. Avatar of Agness Walewinder
      Agness Walewinder

      I’m so sorry to hear about your bad experience in Hanoi. Cez was attacked in Hanoi as well. One night he was coming back to his hostel room when 3 guys surrounded him with knives and tried to steal his laptop from his backpack. Luckily he had a pepper gas with him so the guys ran away… Be more careful!!!

  14. Avatar of Pamela

    People often see the glamorous side of travelling and often forgot the bad side of it. It all comes in a package, you have good days and you have bad ones. Some days you just need to lower the expectation and accept the down days. :)

  15. Avatar of Rebekah

    That spider bite is the most terrifying thing I’ve ever heard of. That’s horrible. Travel definitely has a unglamorous side to it. I always tell myself that it will seem glamorous when I look back 20 years from now

  16. Avatar of Mike T

    Great post and I can relate. I got to a point when I heard comments like this from strangers, I would just agree and not get into it. I have two bad travel memories and the first one was getting dengue fever in Thailand. It was the worst thing I’ve ever had but I was so delirious that I didn’t go the hospital since I had delusions that I would get my kidneys removed at the hospital. I was lucky and the fever broke a couple days later but I lost my memory for 2 or 3 days. The other one was crashing my motorcycle in Bali and getting a concussion. Both of these incidents were over 15 years ago and I they make for interesting stories.:)

  17. Avatar of Rachel of Hippie in Heels

    girl I feel ya! I’m happy to be an expat now and take shorter trips so I can spend a little more. when i look back at some of thing things I did traveling broke it’s scary! I stayed in filthy places while trying to recover from dengue, couchsurfed with people I didnt even like bc was running low on cash… went way too many days without actually staying in a room and showering (just traveling through th night from bus to bus) I must say I don’t miss that way of travel. I’m happy to be an expat and travel a little less rough now! I still get majorly homesick though, especially when I’m physically sick!

    1. Avatar of Agness Walewinder
      Agness Walewinder

      Hi Rachel! I also enjoyed my expat life in China and I am so excited about my expat life in Amsterdam which starts in September =). Yes, I’m moving to Holland for a year!

  18. Avatar of Escape Hunter

    Those illnesses are serious stuff. Dengue fever, poisonous spider bite, being clinically dead… You guys have been through a lot!
    You actually took that huge brick-thick Lonely Planet book on China with you? It must have been damn heavy, but I guess China is huge too :)
    Where exactly (geographical location) did the spider bite occur?

    1. Avatar of Agness Walewinder
      Agness Walewinder

      Being sick on the road is not so much fun. It was in Huayuan, a small town located in Hunan province – south central part of the Chinese mainland.

      1. Avatar of Escape Hunter

        It’s definitely not “fun”…
        I had a coupple of sicknesses, like a few when trekking and I even got a severe pneumonia once, which was terrible.
        What you’ve described here is pure horror. Especially the toxic spider bite and the dengue fever…
        Health is always a top priority.

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